Updated: February 2, 2020
Monteverde is one of Costa Rica’s most unique destinations. This humble mountain town, best known for its cloud forests, is far removed from any other tourist spot. And because it sits on its own, how to get there is often a topic of interest or even concern. Indeed, driving to Monteverde is an adventure, but it can be fun if you are prepared. In this post, we’ll give you directions for the two most common routes to Monteverde, tell you what road conditions to expect, and give you rental car tips.
Driving to Monteverde from San Jose or Pacific Coast Destinations
If you are driving to Monteverde from San Jose or the Pacific Coast (e.g., Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, Samara, or elsewhere in Guanacaste), the best and most commonly traveled road is Route 606. Route 606 starts at the Inter-Americana Highway (Highway 1) and is marked by a gas station called Rancho Grande. Once you get on Route 606, the drive to Santa Elena and Monteverde is about 36 km (22 miles) and takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
IMPORTANT ROAD CONSTRUCTION UPDATE (February 2020): Starting in early January 2018, they began the process of paving the rest of Route 606 (from the town of Guacimal to Santa Elena). This was a huge undertaking and the road was detoured on and off for about 2 years. We are happy to report that the last time we drove this stretch, it was completely paved all the way until Santa Elena (Monteverde). Read more below.
Route 606 Road Conditions
From Route 1 (at the Rancho Grande gas station), Route 606 is now paved all the way to downtown Santa Elena. The two-lane road winds through the town of Guacimal before becoming very rural. The road can be extremely curvy at times and you will gain elevation as you go. As you get higher, there are some fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and rolling farm fields.
There are some sharp curves, potholes, narrow spots, and steep cliffs or rocky embankments. During the rainy months (May through November), small landslides or washouts can block or partially block the road. Road crews usually open things back up within hours, though. It is best to avoid this road at night because there are very few guardrails and visibility can be poor due to clouds or rain. During the day, the drive is beautiful and you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean from some viewpoints.
Here is a short video we took driving to Monteverde on Route 606 to give you an idea. Note that this video was taken before the road became paved. However, still give you an idea of the curves, elevation gain, and views.
Driving to Monteverde from La Fortuna or Lake Arenal
Many people visiting Monteverde also go to La Fortuna to see Arenal Volcano and enjoy the hot springs. If you are driving to Monteverde from La Fortuna or Lake Arenal, the best roads are Route 142 to Tilaran, then Route 145 to 606. This drive takes about 3.5-4 hours (from La Fortuna) and is along a mix of paved and dirt roads.
Route 142 Road Conditions
From La Fortuna, Route 142 is a paved road that goes all the way around Lake Arenal (about 1.5 hours). It’s a curvy but very scenic road with green hills and surrounding jungle. Along the way, you’ll pass some cool wind turbines and a few tasty restaurants. On the other side of the lake, Route 142 goes farther west to the small city of Tilaran. In Tilaran, you’ll get off Route 142 (road will go slightly left) and go through town to connect with Route 145.
Tip: There are two opportunities to get gas on this drive, one in Nuevo Arenal and the other in Tilaran. Between Tilaran and Monteverde, there are no other gas stations.
Route 145 and 606 Road Conditions
After you’ve gone around the lake and through Tilaran, you’ll connect with Route 145. This road is paved leaving Tilaran, but after a short drive, turns to dirt. Once you get out of Tilaran, start looking for the ‘Y’ in the road. At this intersection, it will seem like you should stay on the paved road, but you’ll actually go right to stay on Route 145, which is dirt. The drive along Route 145, which then turns into 606, will take 1.5-2 hours. It passes farm pastures, coffee fields, and even some waterfalls.
Overall, the road is hilly with some larger rocks and pot holes to maneuver around. This makes the ride very bumpy and slow. There are a few sections that are steep and narrow, including a one-lane bridge with some intimidating drop-offs on each side. During the rainy season, expect more mud and ruts. When we drove it in July one year, the road was very muddy at one point. There was a giant rut that looked like a car had recently gotten stuck, and some marks from a tractor pulling it out.
Only drive this road in the daylight since visibility can be limited by rain or fog and there are no guardrails. There are only a few towns along the way too, in case you break down or get stuck. Also be sure to look carefully for the (sometimes small) signs to Monteverde, as the road branches off in several spots. We recommend cross-referencing your GPS as you go.
Here is a short video we took driving to Monteverde on Routes 145 and 606 from Tilaran.
Rental Car Tips
If you are planing to visit both Monteverde and La Fortuna, road conditions change constantly throughout the year on Route 145 and the other side of Route 606. One day, the road might be fine, and another, it could be a muddy mess after a big storm. Crews grade the roads periodically as well, which can make a big difference.
Since it can be hard to know what to expect for your visit, we recommend a vehicle with 4-wheel drive year-round. Although during the drier months (December to April), it is often possible to make the trip without one, you won’t know exactly what you’ll be in for until you get there. If you do opt to skip 4×4 during the dry season, you will still want an SUV with higher clearance so that the ride is not as rough. In the rainier months (May to November), a 4×4 is highly recommended because road conditions can change quickly with heavy rain.
If you are visiting Monteverde via Route 606 only, a 4×4 rental car should not be necessary. However, you may wish you get one if you plan to explore the area, as some of the roads leading to activities (e.g. zip-lining, hanging bridges) are still dirt and can get slippery.
If you haven’t rented a car yet, check out our Rental Car Discount to save some money and get a discount on a GPS.
As you can see from our videos and pictures, driving to Monteverde can be an adventurous experience. Hopefully this post has eased your worries and prepared you for the beautiful ride.
Post Updated: February 5, 2020
Have you driven to Monteverde lately? We’d love to hear your report. When did you go and how were the roads? Leave a comment below.
Looking for more info to plan your trip? Check out these posts:
Driving in Costa Rica – Not all roads are as rugged as the ones going to Monteverde but there is still a lot to know about driving in Costa Rica. Read our Driving post for more info.
La Fortuna: What to Expect – If you are heading to La Fortuna before or after your time in Monteverde, check out our guide first. Includes activities, restaurants, and hotels.
Monteverde Hotel Guide – Don’t get bogged down by the wide range of lodging options in Monteverde and Santa Elena. Check out our picks for some of the best in town.